Graduate student asking why some parents opt not to immunize their children

The proportion of Albertans who are adequately immunized has consistently fallen below provincial targets, leading a University of Lethbridge graduate student to study why some parents choose to reject medical vaccines for their children.

King would like to see her research add something different to the literature on immunization choices that currently exists.

Jillian King (BSc ’12) is exploring the decisions of some families living in or near Lethbridge on whether or not to immunize their children against afflictions such as measles, mumps, rubella and other preventable infectious diseases. She is interested in the attitudes of both pro- and anti-vaccination families, as well as the biomedical alternatives being pursued by those who choose not to immunize.

“This is something that public health officials are concerned about, so I want to explore why parents are choosing to explore more natural ways of dealing with immune health as opposed to getting immunizations,” says King on the eve of the World Health Organization’s World Immunization Week (Apr. 24-30).

In her research, King, who works with supervisor Steve Ferzacca of the Deprtment of Anthropology, plans to interview a total of 20 parents of children under age 6 who either support or oppose immunization. Having already interviewed 15 parents, her preliminary findings have indicated that some parents who now oppose immunization have had a health issue with a first child that they perceive to have been caused by a vaccine, thus preventing them from immunizing subsequent children. Others have reported that they believe in the disease-fighting powers of natural interventions, such as chiropractic care, vitamins and a healthy diet.

“I think there is a lot of misunderstanding and possibly misrepresentation about this issue,” says King. “So I think it’s useful to have an understanding of the parental perceptions and practices, and to add an ethnographic perspective to the literature.”

King is completing an Individualized Multi-Disciplinary Master of Arts degree, having previously completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology and religious studies. A Calgary native, her interest in medical anthropology was sparked by an undergraduate anthropology course. She now works closely with the U of L’s Institute for Child and Youth Studies (I-CYS) to bring a multidisciplinary approach to her research.

“Being part of I-CYS has been really useful, because I’ve been able to learn from experienced professors from other disciplines, including those involved with child immune studies,” says King. “I think we often get stuck in the thinking of our own disciplines, and being a part of I-CYS helps you think about your research from different perspectives.”

King would like to see her research add something different to the literature that currently exists. She plans to get at why parents are deciding whether or not to immunize their children, instead of merely identify the groups who don’t. She also plans to publish her findings in academic journals and will also disseminate her research in upcoming local and global academic conferences.

For more on research at the University of Lethbridge, follow this link.